To all the Gutsy Girls who were cautioned that they shouldn’t, wouldn’t, or couldn’t … and they did. Thank you.
As if the title of the book wasn’t enough to draw me in, the dedication sold me. Caroline Paul’s boo, “The Gutsy Girl: Escapes for Your Life of Epic Adventure” is meant for girls, not for adults. But adults, like myself, have found their way to the book drawn to words like “gusty” “epic” and “adventure.” Maybe because we were never taught to cultivate these qualities or seek out epic adventures. Maybe because we hope there’s still time left to become a gutsy girl.
“Is it too late for me?” That’s a question Caroline Paul said she has received from women who have read her book.
“A lot of women emailed me and said, and it makes me kind of sad, ‘I’m not brave is it too late for me,'” Caroline said when we talked last month about the book, being gutsy and being an athlete. She paused. “It’s not. I think people mistake the point of the book sometimes. You don’t have to have lived a life of climbing icebergs and swimming in really cold oceans to be brave or have an adventurous life. It’s getting outside of your comfort zone, whatever that is for you. That’s what I point out and that bravery is learned and it takes practice. It’s never too late for that.”
The book tells stories about various adventures, or aptly misadventures, in Caroline’s life from trying to create a milk carton pirate ship as a kid to kayaking in Croatia to escaping a cloud suck while paragliding in Brazil. Big adventures, yes, but along the way she notes that bravery is an every day practice. She encourages her readers to perform acts of microbravery — every day acts which aren’t life or death but take us out of our comfort zone and teach us the difference between fear and exhilaration.
“Fear and excitement feel very similar and so for a lot of women who never practice bravery, they don’t recognize the difference,” she said. “They could be mountain climbing and they’re feeling something and they mistake it for overwhelming fear when it might be a bit of fear but also excitement. They both have the same physical characteristics — heightened heartbeat and you feel a little tense. If you don’t practice bravery, you don’t know the difference. You don’t know yourself that well and you end up cutting yourself out of a lot of experiences because you think ‘Oh that feels scary so it must be bad.’
“I’m pro gutsy. I think we women have been taught to look at life through a fear lens … I think women have the bravery aspect but give fear more weight and they don’t have to. Being brave opens up many possibilities.”
I’m pro gutsy, too, although I had to relearn to be gutsy. I had a well-developed fear lens and at times fear still likes to color my vision. Fear likes me to see things its way. But bravery is a pretty strong lens, too. There were things I wanted to do and viewing the world through my fear lens was getting frustrating. So bit by bit my bravery lens started showing up. Sure now I’m in love with endurance sports and distance running but there was a time when I couldn’t run for an entire song on my iPod. The day I did (confession: I am pretty sure it was a Britney Spears song) I was ridiculously proud of myself. I wanted to get off the treadmill at the gym and walk around to everyone and say Hey did you see what I just did? I ran the entire length of “Oops! … I Did it Again.” Do you know what this means?
Gutsy starts with those seemingly simple moments, the ones which bravery’s whisper of “try” is far more appealing that fear’s broken record of “but what if?”
Bravery still whispers to me. It’s still a daily practice to be gutsy and a constant reminder that some of the most important brave and gutsy moves aren’t about running marathons or climbing mountains but about the every day adventures that comprise the story of your life. What chapter starts today?